MoJo Author Feeds: Tim McDonnell | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en These Photos of Sea Creatures Soaked by Oil in California Will Break Your Heart <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/beach_3.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Volunteers fill buckets with oil near Refugio State Beach. </strong>Michael A. Mariant/AP</div> </div> <p>On Tuesday, an <a href="" target="_blank">oil pipeline burst</a> near Refugio State Beach west of Santa Barbara, California, sending an estimated 105,000 gallons of oil onto the beach. Up to a fifth of that oil is believed to have reached the ocean, Reuters reports.</p> <p>Now, volunteers and private contractors are racing to clean up the oil. About 6,000 gallons have been collected so far, according to the <a href="" target="_blank">AP</a>. But damage has already been done. At least two pelicans have been <a href="" target="_blank">found dead</a>, and five more pelicans and one sea lion were sent for rehabilitation. Biologists have also found <a href="" target="_blank">many dead fish and lobsters</a>. Local officials have closed the beach at least through Memorial Day, and possibly for <a href="" target="_blank">"many weeks"</a> after that, one scientist at the scene said.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/sea-lion.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A young female sea lion affected by the Santa Barbara oil spill receives treatment from the SeaWorld California animal rescue team. </strong>Rex Features/AP</div> </div> <p>The company that owned the pipeline, Plains All American, has one of the country's <a href="" target="_blank">worst environmental safety records</a>. An analysis by the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a> found that the company's rate of incidents per mile of pipeline is more than three times the national average. A spokesperson said the company deeply "regrets this release," but it remains unclear what penalties it could face for this latest accident.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Bagged oil on Refugio Beach <a href="">#SantaBarbaraOilSpill</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Max Ufberg (@Max_Uf) <a href="">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>It could be years before the full impact is truly understood, since damage to the ecosystem can sometimes take a while to manifest. Five years after the <a href="" target="_blank">Deepwater Horizon spill</a> in the Gulf of Mexico, biologists are still tallying the damage.</p> <p>Here are some of the latest images coming in from the scene:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/beach2.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Refugio State Beach </strong>Santa Barbara News-Press/ZUMA</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/crab_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A small crab covered in oil </strong>Troy Harvey/ZUMA</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/whales.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Two whales surfaced near an oil slick off Refugio State Beach. </strong>Michael A. Mariant/AP</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/lobster.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A dead lobster covered in oil on the shoreline </strong>Troy Harvey/ZUMA</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/octopus.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Clean-up workers remove a dead octopus from the beach. </strong>Mike Eliason/ZUMA</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/crew.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand. </strong>Michael A. Mariant/AP</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> <div class="caption"> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/boats.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A helicopter coordinates ships below pulling booms to collect oil from the spill. </strong>Michael A. Mariant/AP</div> </div> </div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/site.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Clean-up workers monitor the site of the underground oil pipeline break. </strong>Michael A. Mariant/AP</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">@KTLA</a> <a href="">@FoxNews</a> <a href="">@KEYTNC3</a> volunteers doing what we could before being kicked off the beach. <a href="">@KEYTNC3Senerey</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Animal Tracks, Inc. (@AnimalTracksInc) <a href="">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Environment Photo Essays Animals Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Top Stories Infrastructure Fri, 22 May 2015 20:00:12 +0000 Tim McDonnell 275731 at Exclusive: The CIA Is Shuttering a Secretive Climate Research Program <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Wednesday, when President Barack Obama spoke at the US Coast Guard Academy's commencement ceremony, he <a href="" target="_blank">called</a> climate change "an immediate risk to our national security." In recent months, the Obama administration has repeatedly highlighted the international threats posed by global warming and has emphasized the need for the country's national security agencies to study and confront the issue.</p> <p>So some national security experts were surprised to learn that an important component of that effort has been ended. A CIA spokesperson confirmed to Climate Desk that the agency is shuttering its main climate research program. Under the program, known as Medea, the CIA had allowed civilian scientists to access classified data&mdash;such as ocean temperature and tidal readings gathered by Navy submarines and topography data collected by spy satellites&mdash;in an effort to glean insights about how global warming could create security threats around the world. In theory, the program benefited both sides: Scientists could study environmental data that was much higher-resolution than they would normally have access to, and the CIA received research insights about climate-related threats.</p> <p>But now, the program has come to a close.</p> <p>"Under the Medea program to examine the implications of climate change, CIA participated in various projects," a CIA spokesperson explained in a statement. "These projects have been completed and CIA will employ these research results and engage external experts as it continues to evaluate the national security implications of climate change."</p> <p>The program was originally launched in 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration and was later shut down during President George W. Bush's term. It was <a href="" target="_blank">re-launched</a> under the Obama administration in 2010, with the aim of providing security clearances to roughly 60 climate scientists. Those scientists were given access to classified information that could be useful for researching global warming and tracking environmental changes that could have national security implications. Data gathered by the military and intelligence agencies is often of much higher quality than what civilian scientists normally work with.</p> <p>In some cases, that data could then be declassified and published, although Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security, said it is usually impossible to know whether any particular study includes data from Medea. "You wouldn't see [Medea] referenced anywhere" in a peer-reviewed paper, he said. But he pointed to the CIA's annual <a href="" target="_blank">Worldwide Threat Assessment</a>, which includes multiple references to climate change, as a probable Medea product, where the CIA likely partnered with civilian scientists to analyze classified data.&nbsp;</p> <p>With the closure of the program, it remains unclear how much of this sort of data will remain off-limits to climate scientists. The CIA did not respond to questions about what is currently being done with the data that would have been available under the program.</p> <p>Marc Levy, a Columbia University political scientist, said he was surprised to learn that Medea had been shut down. "The climate problems are getting worse in a way that our data systems are not equipped to handle," said Levy, who was not a participant in the CIA program but has worked closely with the US intelligence community on climate issues since the 1990s. "There's a growing gap between what we can currently get our hands on, and what we need to respond better. So that's inconsistent with the idea that Medea has run out of useful things to do."</p> <p>The program had some notable successes. During the Clinton administration, Levy said, it gave researchers access to classified data on sea ice measurements taken by submarines, an invaluable resource for scientists studying climate change at the poles. And last fall, NASA <a href="" target="_blank">released</a> a trove of high-resolution satellite elevation maps that can be used to project the impacts of flooding. But Levy said the Defense Department possesses even higher-quality&nbsp;satellite maps that have not been released.</p> <p>Still, it's possible Medea had outlived its useful life, said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a 23-year veteran of the CIA who&nbsp;had first-hand knowledge of the program before leaving the agency in 2009. He said he was not surprised to see Medea close down.</p> <p>"In my judgment, the CIA is not the best lead agency for the issue; the agency's 'in-box' is already overflowing with today's threats and challenges," he said via email. "CIA has little strategic planning reserves, relatively speaking, and its overseas presence is heavily action-oriented."</p> <p>Over the past several years, climate change has <a href="" target="_blank">gained prominence</a> among defense experts, many of whom see it as a "threat multiplier" that can exacerbate crises such as infectious disease and terrorism. Medea had been part of a larger network of climate-related initiatives across the national security community. Medea's closure notwithstanding, that network appears to be growing. Last fall, Obama issued an <a href="" target="_blank">executive order</a> calling on federal agencies to collaborate on developing and sharing climate data and making it accessible to the public.</p> <p>But the CIA's work on climate change has drawn heavy fire from a group of congressional Republicans led by Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.). Barrasso <a href="" target="_blank">said last year</a> that he believes that "the climate is constantly changing" and that "the role human activity plays is not known." He recently authored an <a href="" target="_blank">op-ed</a> for the <em>Wall Street Journal </em>in which he listed the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere as "greater challenges" than climate change. (The Syrian civil war, however, was <a href="" target="_blank">likely worsened by climate change</a>.)</p> <p>Around the time Medea was re-instated by the Obama administration, the CIA formed a new office to oversee climate efforts called the Center for Climate Change. At the time, <a href="" target="_blank">Barrasso said</a> the spy agency "should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves, not polar bears on icebergs." That office was <a href="" target="_blank">closed</a> in 2012 (the agency wouldn't say why), leaving Medea as the CIA's main climate research program.</p> <p>So does the conclusion of Medea signal that the CIA is throwing in the towel on climate altogether? Unlikely, according to Femia. At this point, he said, US security agencies, including the CIA, are still sorting out what resources they can best offer in the effort to adapt to climate change. Regardless of whether the CIA is facilitating civilian research, he said, "continuing to integrate climate change information into its assessments of both unstable and stable regions of the world will be critical."</p> <p>"Otherwise," added Femia, "we will have a blind spot that prevents us from adequately protecting the United States."</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk International Military Obama Science Top Stories Thu, 21 May 2015 18:44:10 +0000 Tim McDonnell 275556 at Here's One Way the Developing World Totally Has America Beat <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>China is by far the world's biggest investor in clean energy technologies like solar and wind. Last year, its clean energy spending hit a record <a href="" target="_blank">$83 billion</a>, a 39 percent jump from the year before, and more than twice what is spent in the United States.</p> <p>Although America and most other G20 nations are moving toward a clean energy overhaul, its the developing world where you'll find the most explosive growth: When you add in emerging markets like Brazil, India, and South Africa, clean energy investment in developing countries totaled $131 billion in 2014, only six percent less than the combined total for developed countries. It's the closest that gap has ever been, according to <a href="" target="_blank">Bloomberg New Energy Finance</a> (BNEF):</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen-Shot-2015-05-18-at-2.51.03-PM.jpg"><div class="caption">BNEF</div> </div> <p>That gap will soon close, and then start growing in the other direction, according to a <a href="" target="_blank">new report</a> from the Pew Trust. Based on financial data from BNEF, the report's authors project that more than $7 trillion will be invested in new energy systems by 2030, two-thirds of it in developing countries. (Pew's analysis doesn't put China in that category.) Roughly $5 trillion of it will be clean energy investment.</p> <p>It's no mystery why developing countries are positioning themselves to win this race. For one, they need the electricity. As it stands, more than 1.3 billion people, mostly in Asia, India, and sub-Saharan Africa, live without access to reliable modern service:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Figure-1.jpg"><div class="caption">Pew</div> </div> <p>If you want to bring electricity to places without a power grid, renewables have lots of advantages. For one, it's far cheaper and faster to build a solar or wind farm than a coal or gas-fired generation plant. And renewables can be built locally, on a small scale, eliminating the need for long-distance transmission lines. Consider what happened with cellphones: Mobile technology became cheap and ubiquitous before many African nations had landline networks, so people just "leapfrogged" straight to wireless.</p> <p>The same phenomenon is afoot in the energy market, says Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who was not involved with the Pew report. "I don't have any doubt that over the next two generations we'll see colossal investments in the energy sector in many African countries" and in India.</p> <p>Compare the maps above and below. You'll note a strong connection between so-called energy poverty (above) and future power demand (below), in Africa especially. This is hardly surprising, but only in the past few years has renewable energy has become affordable and accessible enough to get the transformation rolling.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Figure-2.jpg"><div class="caption">Pew</div> </div> <p>Energy poverty isn't the only factor driving clean energy's growth. In Bulgaria or Ukraine, both of which Pew identified as key places for energy investment in the developing world, the growth is driven by a desire to wrest control from foreign fossil fuel suppliers, i.e. Russia's Gazprom. That's according to Phyllis Cuttino, a clean energy analyst who authored the Pew report. "These countries want to have sources they don't have to import, and they want to stimulate economic growth," she said.</p> <p>The report also identified Kenya, Peru, Taiwan, Morocco, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the Philippines as top attractors of clean energy investment. For now, anyway: The lineup may change from year to year in response to domestic policies (mandates, subsidies, etc.). And Moss said that the report underestimates the role African countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia will play. Still, many developing countries are in for internal political battles over clean energy, of the sort that we've seen, and are still fighting, in the United States.</p> <p>African utility companies also often struggle with bad credit histories, Moss said, which can make it difficult to secure loans from the World Bank or other international institutions. "The key to unlocking investment in the power sector is getting a long-term, credit-worthy deal," he said.</p> <p>Regardless of which countries come out ahead, we're almost certain to see far more money invested in clean energy than in fossil fuels over the next few decades. In the charts below, solar in particular is projected to grow massively by 2030, while new fossil fuel installations will shrink to less than half of the total.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Figure-5.jpg"><div class="caption">Pew</div> </div> <p>So where does this leave United States? There's a huge opportunity for clean energy entrepreneurs to expand into developing countries, Cuttino said. Indeed, according to Commerce Department <a href="" target="_blank">stats</a>, six of our top 10 destinations for clean energy exports are developing countries. President Barack Obama has made electrification in Africa a <a href="http://" target="_blank">signature foreign policy initiative</a> of his second term. That move in itself sends an important signal about the difference between clean energy here and in the developing world. Here the benefits are primarily environmental. There, clean energy is seen as a key step to alleviating poverty.</p></body></html> Environment Charts Climate Desk Energy International Tech Top Stories Infrastructure Tue, 19 May 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Tim McDonnell 275446 at This Likely GOP Presidential Candidate Actually Believes in Global Warming <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination, thinks climate change is real and caused&mdash;at least in part&mdash;by human activity, <a href="" target="_blank">according to MSNBC</a>.</p> <p>Christie said he believes there's "no use in denying global warming exists" but that he's skeptical about most of the mainstream approaches to dealing with it. That includes cap-and-trade programs and unilateral steps to reduce America's carbon footprint, such as President Barack Obama's proposed restrictions on power plant emissions.</p> <p>Christie's comments essentially matched those he made in <a href="" target="_blank">back in 2011</a>, the last time he spoke publicly about the issue. In some respects, his position is refreshingly distinct from those of his probable rivals in 2016. Many of the GOP contenders&mdash;for example, <a href="" target="_blank">Rand Paul</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Ted Cruz</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Marco Rubio</a>&mdash;sit somewhere on the spectrum of climate change denial. But at the same time, Christie's track record in New Jersey suggests that as president, he'd be unlikely to actually do much to confront global warming, even if he thinks it's happening. <a href="" target="_blank">As <em>Climate Progress</em> put it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As governor, Christie withdrew New Jersey from the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing emissions, in 2011. Last year, Christie <a href="">called</a> RGGI "a completely useless plan" and said that he "would not think of rejoining it." Christie even vetoed an attempt by the New Jersey state legislature to rejoin RGGI&hellip;New Jersey also doesn't have a statewide climate change plan&mdash;the state is the only one on the eastern seaboard to not have one in place or be in the process of developing one, <a href="">according to</a> the Georgetown Climate Center.</p> </blockquote> <p>Christie's logic&mdash;that even if climate change is real, there's nothing we can do to stop it&mdash;is out of step with mainstream science. And it ignores the growing international political momentum around climate action, which Obama has <a href="" target="_blank">sought to lead</a>. Moreover, if Christie thinks that kind of rhetoric is going to help him score points with Republican voters in the wake of the <a href="" target="_blank">federal indictments handed down last week</a> in the <a href="" target="_blank">Bridgegate scandal</a>, he has a long way to go: The <a href="" target="_blank">latest polling</a> puts Christie behind all of his serious opponents for the nomination.</p></body></html> Blue Marble 2016 Elections Climate Change Climate Desk Mon, 11 May 2015 21:12:04 +0000 Tim McDonnell 275056 at Obama Okays Shell's Plan to Drill for Oil in the Arctic <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Royal Dutch Shell cleared a major hurdle this afternoon when the Obama administration <a href=";utm_campaign=BOEM+Conditionally+Approves+Shell%27s++EP&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank">announced</a> conditional approval for the company's application to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's North Slope. The decision came after a few months of public comment on Shell's exploration plan, which was <a href="" target="_blank">roundly condemned</a> by environmental groups and several North Slope communities.</p> <p>Shell's plan involves drilling for oil in a patch of ocean called the <a href="" target="_blank">Burger Prospect</a>. The drilling is slated to take place this summer when sea ice is at its lowest. In anticipation of this decision, two massive oil drilling ships owned by Shell <a href="" target="_blank">are en route to a temporary dock in Seattle</a>; from there, they are scheduled to press on to the Arctic.</p> <p>If the ships make it to the planned site, it will be the first attempt Shell has made to drill in the Arctic (an area believed to hold massive subterranean reserves of oil and gas) since its disastrous effort in 2012. Back then, Shell faced a <a href="" target="_blank">yearlong series of mishaps</a> as it tried to navigate the icy waters, culminating in a wreck of the <em>Kulluk</em>, one of its main drilling ships. For many environmentalists, that botched project was a sign that Shell is ill-equipped to handle Arctic waters.</p> <p>Moreover, today's decision underscored what many describe as an inconsistency in President Barack Obama's climate change policy: Despite his aggressive rhetoric on the dangers of global warming, and a suite of policies to curb the nation's carbon footprint, Obama has also pushed to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. Earlier this year, he <a href="" target="_blank">announced a plan</a> to limit drilling permits in some parts of the Arctic while simultaneously opening a vast new swath of the Atlantic ocean to drilling.</p> <p>Allowing Shell to forge ahead with its Arctic ambitions flies in the face of the president's own climate agenda, said Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.</p> <p>"It's a total mystery why the Obama administration and [Interior] Secretary [Sally] Jewell are continuing down this path that is enormously risky, contradicts climate science, and is completely unnecessary to meet our energy goals," Matzner said. "It's a dangerous folly to think that this can be done."</p> <p>Before Shell can start drilling, it still needs to secure a few final federal and state permits, including one that requires Shell to demonstrate how it plans to protect ocean life during drilling and in the case of a spill. Those decisions are expected within the next month or so.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Shell told the <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank"><em>New York Times</em></a>: "Before operations can begin this summer, it's imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical, and delivered in a timely manner. In the meantime, we will continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Top Stories Infrastructure Mon, 11 May 2015 19:31:08 +0000 Tim McDonnell 275066 at These Scientists Just Lost Their Lives in the Arctic. They Were Heroes. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Early last month, veteran polar explorers and scientists Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo set out on skis from Resolute Bay, a remote outpost in the patchwork of islands between Canada and Greenland. Their destination was Bathurst Island, a treacherous 70-mile trek to the northwest across the frozen sea, where they planned to document thinning Arctic sea ice just a few months after NASA reported that the winter ice cover was the <a href="" target="_blank">lowest on record</a>.</p> <p>It wasn't hard to find what they were looking for, according to a <a href="" target="_blank">dispatch</a> Cornelissen uploaded to Soundcloud on April 28.</p> <p>"We're nearing into the coast of Bathurst," he said. "We think we see thin ice in front of us&hellip;Within 15 minutes of skiing it became really warm. In the end it was me skiing in my underwear&hellip;I don't think it looked very nice, and it didn't feel sexy either, but it was the only way to deal with the heat."</p> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>His next message, a day later, was an emergency distress signal picked up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. <a href="" target="_blank">According to the <em>Guardian</em></a>, a pilot flying over the spot reported seeing open water, scattered equipment, and a lone sled dog sitting on the broken ice. By last Friday, rescuers had called off the search. The pair are presumed to have drowned, victims of the same thin ice they had come to study. Cornelissen was 46; de Roo had just turned 30.</p> <p>Yesterday, <a href="" target="_blank">Cold Facts</a>, the nonprofit with whom the pair was working at the time, dispatched a snowmobile expedition to attempt to recover their belongings. You can follow their progress on Twitter <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. The dog, Kimnik, was found a few days ago and is doing fine, the group <a href="" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>In a <a href="" target="_blank">blog post</a> on the website of the European Space Agency, Cornelissen was remembered by former colleagues as "an inspirational character, an explorer and a romantic. He had fallen in love with the spellbinding beauty of the poles and had made it a personal mission to highlight the magnitude of the human fingerprint on this last wilderness."</p> <p>It's not clear whether the ice conditions the pair encountered were directly attributable to climate change, according to <a href="" target="_blank"><em>E&amp;E News</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>That the region had thin ice is evident. Perhaps the ice had been thinned by ocean currents that deliver warm water from below, or by the wind, which could generate open water areas. It is difficult to know. Climate change may have played a role, or it may not have&hellip;the impacts of the warming on ice thickness regionally can be unpredictable, [ESA scientist Mark] Drinkwater said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Still, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth. We rely on the work of scientists like these to know exactly what is happening there and how it will affect those of us who choose to stay safe in warmer, drier places. Their deaths are a testament to the dedication and fearlessness required to stand on the front lines of climate change.</p> <p>Rest in peace, guys.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Thu, 07 May 2015 19:14:27 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274906 at California Has the Country's Most Ambitious Climate Goals. Will They Go Up in Smoke? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last week California Gov. Jerry Brown made headlines when he announced that his <a href="" target="_blank">state would pursue the most aggressive</a> greenhouse gas emissions cuts in the nation. The new goal&mdash;to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030&mdash;is an interim step meant to help achieve a final goal set by Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.</p> <p>Exact details on how the new target will be achieved haven't yet been released, but it will likely include a combination of new clean-energy mandates and pollution reduction rules for power companies, as well as incentives for electric vehicles. That's a good place to start: Transportation and the energy sector are the two biggest portions of the state's carbon footprint, accounting for roughly 36 percent and 21 percent of emissions, respectively. Those sectors are also the two biggest in the nationwide carbon footprint, which is why President Barack Obama's climate rules have likewise focused on cars and power plants.</p> <p>But there's another slice of the carbon pie that gets very little airtime, and on which California and the United States as a whole fare very differently: land use. Trees and soil store a lot of carbon, and any time they get destroyed (logged for timber, burned in a fire, plowed for agriculture, paved over for urban development), there are associated carbon emissions. On the national level, <a href="" target="_blank">according</a> to the Environmental Protection Agency, land use is actually a carbon sink, meaning that the carbon stored by forests and other vegetation outweighs emissions from messing with them. It's no small piece; land use offsets up to 13 percent of the total US carbon footprint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (through policies such as minimizing soil erosion and limiting the conversion of forests into cropland).</p> <p>New research indicates the trend may be very different in California, contrary to conventional wisdom in the state. Since the passage of the state's first global warming legislation, AB 32 in 2006, California's carbon targets have been set with the assumption that there would be no net increase in land use emissions. The <a href="" target="_blank">greenhouse gas inventory</a> published by the California Air Resources Board, the state's air pollution regulatory agency, makes no mention of forestry or land use emissions. But a <a href="" target="_blank">peer-reviewed study</a> commissioned by CARB and published last month by the National Park Service's top climate change scientist, Patrick Gonzalez, in conjunction with the University of California-Berkeley, found that over the last decade land use in California has been a <em>source</em>, not a sink, of carbon emissions.</p> <p>Gonzalez's research aggregated,&nbsp;for the first time, a vast collection of satellite data and on-the-ground measurements to estimate how much carbon is stored in vegetation in the state. It's a pretty staggering amount: The state's 26 national parks store the rough equivalent of the average annual carbon emissions of 7 million Americans. But even more revealing was how that number has shrunk over the last decade, as wildfires, development, and agriculture chip away at forests and other "natural" landscapes. Every year, the disappearance of these carbon stocks emits about as much carbon dioxide as the city of Dallas, says Gonzalez&mdash;that's roughly 5 to 7 percent of California's total carbon footprint.</p> <p>In other words, Gonzalez says, if California wants to meet its climate targets, the state has a hole that needs to be filled with better land management. Unfortunately, climate change itself is likely to make this situation even worse. Two-thirds of the land use emissions Gonzalez identified were the result of wildfires, meaning that better managing fires&mdash;and thereby keeping carbon locked away inside forests&mdash;is a key step for reducing the state's overall emissions. Climate change makes wildfires worse by increasing the severity and frequency of droughts, and as the state's unprecedented drought enters its fifth year, experts say the wildfire season there is <a href="" target="_blank">already shaping up to be a "disaster."</a></p> <p>Overall, deforestation needs to take on a much more prominent role in the statewide climate conversation, says Louis Blumberg, director of the Nature Conservancy's climate program in California. "There's no way to meet the ambitious targets without dealing with deforestation," he says.</p> <p>A spokesperson for CARB said that the agency is still skeptical that land use is as much of a problem as the Gonzalez study indicates, and that the study likely underestimates the amount of carbon still stored in forests due to uncertainties in the satellite data. Meanwhile, bureaucratic complications have so far precluded CARB from including forests in its carbon accounting (most of the forests are managed by federal, rather than state, agencies). Still, state officials appear to be increasingly aware of the significance of land use in its climate planning. In his <a href="" target="_blank">inaugural address</a> in January, Brown discussed the need to "manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon." Both the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service are now working with state regulators to track the climate impact of deforestation and to develop policies to keep more carbon safely stored away in trees.</p> <p>Deforestation "is a new part of the puzzle," Blumberg said. "But it's essential."</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Tue, 05 May 2015 10:15:06 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274746 at We're in the Process of Decimating 1 in 6 Species on Earth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Plants and animals around the world are already suffering from the negative impacts of manmade global warming&mdash;including shrinking habitats and the spread of disease. A great number are also facing the ultimate demise&mdash;outright extinction&mdash;among them the <a href="" target="_blank">iconic polar bear</a>, some fish species, <a href="" target="_blank">coral</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">trees</a>... the list goes on.</p> <p>While most of the research on this topic so far has been piecemeal, one species at a time, a new <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> out today in <em>Science</em> offers the most comprehensive view to date of the future of extinction. The outlook is pretty grim.</p> <p>The research, conducted by evolutionary biologist Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut, analyzes 131 other scientific papers for clues about how climate change is affecting the overall rate of species extinction. The result is alarming: One out of every six species could face extinction if global warming continues on its current path. The picture is less dire if we manage to curb climate change, dropping to only 5.2 percent of species if warming is kept within the <a href="" target="_blank">internationally-agreed upon target</a> of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.</p> <p>The analysis makes clear that the climate change threat isn't necessarily a separate issue from things like habitat loss and disease; indeed, it's often climate change that is the driving force behind those impacts. The risk appears to be spread evenly across all types of plants and animals (i.e., trees, amphibians, mammals, etc.), but is more severe in geographic ares where there are more unique species and exposure to climate impacts.</p> <p>South America takes the lead, with up to 23 percent of its species threatened. One classic case study there is the golden toad, a native of mountaintop rain forests that was last seen in 1989. The toad was driven to extinction in part due to an epidemic of <em>chytrid</em> fungus (which is <a href="" target="_blank">wiping out amphibians worldwide</a>), and because climate change-related drought is destroying the forests they called home. Australia and New Zealand also ranked highly at risk, with up to 14 percent:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/extinction-map.jpg"><div class="caption">Urban, Science 2015</div> </div> <p>Urban's paper offers perhaps the most comprehensive scientific companion to a terrifying narrative made popular last year in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book <a href="" target="_blank">"The Sixth Extinction</a>," by Elizabeth Kolbert. The <em>New Yorker</em> journalist argued that when you look at the combined toll that pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change is taking on the planet's biodiversity, humans are driving extinction on a scale only preceded in the geologic record by cataclysmic natural disasters (like the meteor that likely brought about the demise of the dinosaurs). Never before has one species been responsible for the demise of so many others. (Check out our interview with Kolbert <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>).</p> <p>Still, Urban's study makes clear that many species that avoid extinction still face grave threats from climate change:</p> <p>"Extinction risks are likely much smaller than the total number of species influenced by climate change," Urban writes. "Even species not threatened directly by extinction could experience substantial changes in abundances, distributions, and species interactions, which in turn could affect ecosystems and their services to humans."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Animals Climate Change Climate Desk Science Thu, 30 Apr 2015 19:10:33 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274566 at California's Fire Season Is Shaping Up to Be a "Disaster" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Monday, 200 firefighters evacuated an upscale residential neighborhood in Los Angeles as they responded to a <a href="" target="_blank">wildfire</a> that had just broken out in the nearby hills. Ninety minutes later, the fire was out, with no damage done. But if that battle was a relatively easy win, it belied a much more difficult war ahead for a state devastated by drought.</p> <p>California is in the midst of one of its worst <a href="" target="_blank">droughts on record</a>, so bad that earlier this month Gov. Jerry Brown took the <a href="" target="_blank">unprecedented step</a> of ordering mandatory water restrictions. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is currently the <a href="" target="_blank">lowest on record</a> for this time of year. And the outlook for the rest of the year is bleak: The latest federal <a href="" target="_blank">projections</a> suggest the drought could get even worse this summer across the entire state (as well as many of its neighbors):</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="drought outlook" class="image" src="/files/season_drought.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA</div> </div> <p>That's a very bad sign for California's wildfire season. After several years of super-dry conditions, the state is literally a tinderbox. "The outlook in California is pretty dire," said Wally Covington, a leading fire ecologist at Northern Arizona University. "It's pretty much a recipe for disaster."</p> <p>To date this year, the overall national tally of wildfires has actually been below average: 14,213 fires across 309,369 acres, compared to the 10-year average of 20,166 fires across 691,776 acres, according to federal <a href="" target="_blank">data</a>. After a peak in 2006, early year wildfire activity in the last few years has been somewhat stable:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/US-bars2.jpg"></div> <p>But in California, the trend looks very different. The tally of fires so far this year is 967&mdash;that's 38 percent higher than the average for this date since 2005. The number of acres burned is up to 4,083, nearly double the count at this time last year and 81 percent above the average since 2005:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CA-bars2.jpg"></div> <p>And here again, the outlook for the rest of the summer is grim. Just look at the overlap between the map above and the map below, which shows that most of California is at above-average risk for fires this summer:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="fire outlook" class="image" src="/files/extended_outlook.jpg"><div class="caption">NIFC</div> </div> <p>This is all costing California taxpayers a lot of money. According to <a href="" target="_blank">Climate Central</a>, California typically spends more money fighting wildfires than the other 10 Western states combined, totaling roughly $4 billion over the last decade. That's partly due to the state's size and vulnerability to big wildfires, and also to the close proximity of high-value urban development to easily ignited forests and grasslands. (Wildfires in the Alaskan wilderness, by comparison, can grow <a href="" target="_blank">much bigger</a> but cost much less, because without homes or towns nearby, they're often allowed to simply burn out.)</p> <p>California burned through its $209 million firefighting budget in just a few months of this fiscal year; back in September, Brown had to <a href="" target="_blank">pull an additional $70 million</a> from a state emergency fund. A spokesperson for the state's department of finance said the wildfire budget has since been increased to $423 million. (Running way over budget on wildfires isn't unique to California; the federal government <a href="" target="_blank">routinely underestimates how much wildfires will cost</a> and ends up having to fight fires with funds that are meant to be spent <em>preventing</em> them.)</p> <p>Scientists have long predicted that an increase in both the frequency and severity of wildfires is a likely outcome of global warming. The Obama administration's National Climate Assessment last year <a href="" target="_blank">cited wildfires</a> as one of the key threats posed to the United States by climate change. Longer periods of drought mean wildfire "fuels" like grass and trees will be drier and easier to burn; at the same time, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means these same fuels will accumulate more quickly. And there's a feedback loop at play: Deforestation caused by wildfires contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that the increasing threat of wildfires will make climate change worse.</p> <p>When it comes to wildfires, Covington said, "with increased climate change, there's a train wreck coming our way."</p> <p>For a more detailed explanation of the link between climate change and wildfires, watch the original Climate Desk video below:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Thu, 30 Apr 2015 10:15:05 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274396 at Chipotle Says It's Getting Rid of GMOs. Here's the Problem. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Chipotle announced this week that it will stop serving food made with genetically modified organisms. The company <a href="" target="_blank">wants you to think</a> the decision is "another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food," apparently because GMOs are regarded with at best suspicion and at worst total revulsion by lots of Americans.</p> <p>There's data to support that notion: A Pew poll released earlier this year found that <a href="" target="_blank">less than 40 percent</a> of Americans think GMOs are safe to eat.</p> <p>Here's the thing, though: GMOs are totally safe to eat. Eighty-eight percent of the scientists in that same poll agreed. As longtime environmentalist Mark Lynas pointed out in the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York Times</em></a> recently, the level of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs is comparable to the scientific consensus on climate change, which is to say that the disagreement camp is a rapidly diminishing minority. Lynas also made the equally valid point that so-called "improved" seeds have a pretty remarkable track record in improving crop yields in developing countries, which translates to a direct win for local economies and food security. (Although there is <a href="" target="_blank">evidence</a> that widespread GMO use can lead to an increased reliance on pesticides.)</p> <p>But there's an even more important reason why Chipotle's announcement is little more than self-congratulatory PR, even if you think that GMOs are the devil. As former <em>MoJo</em>-er Sarah Zhang <a href=";utm_source=gizmodo_twitter&amp;utm_medium=socialflow" target="_blank">pointed out at <em>Gizmodo</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>For the past couple of years, Chipotle has been getting its suppliers to get rid of GM corn and soybean. Today&rsquo;s "GMO-free" announcement comes as Chipotle has switched over to non-GMO corn and soybean oil, but it <em>still </em>serves chicken and pork from animals raised on GMO feed. (Its beef comes from pasture-fed cows.) A good chunk of the GM corn and soybeans grown in America actually goes to feed livestock, so a truly principled stance against GMOs should cut out meat from GM-fed animals, too.</p> </blockquote> <p>The same caveat applies to soda, which is also made mostly from corn.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Food and Ag Tech Tue, 28 Apr 2015 20:08:40 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274441 at